A successful start to farming doesn’t come on a whim – I wasn’t hit with a bolt from the blue, bestowing me with golden knowledge and a basket of seeds and rainbows to toss into the air while skipping through fertile soil, like an overzealous flower girl at the world’s dirtiest wedding. Though I sometimes wish I was. Instead, I spent a ton of time holed up over the winter poring over data sheets, wiring up spreadsheets, doing math, and spending money on farm-related things. This in the midst of a general sense of dread, wondering if all of the time and energy would amount to anything. So far, it seems to be working out, but if nothing else I’ll be able to whip up a mean spreadsheet on demand (Fully Sortable! Colour-Coded! Nearly Automatic! Infused With Dread!™).
Beyond figuring out where to get seeds, what varieties I’d like, and how many I needed, I needed a place to start seeds for transplanting. Lacking the space and resources needed for a heated greenhouse, I opted to build a shifty grow room in my grungy basement. Please don’t tell my landlord – it’s supposed to be a surprise.
It consists entirely of this: some 2x4s, some pallets that I found by the road which I cut up and reassembled into shelving, a bunch of T5 fluorescent light fixtures that I cannibalized from a failed indoor farming operation, and emergency blankets, all held together by rope, duct tape, some screws and a prayer. It actually works really, really well.
It cozily accommodates 24 seedling flats, with room on top of the light fixtures to provide bottom heat to seeds that like warmth to germinate. When it’s watering time, I bring each tray to a laundry sink in another room that I’ve hooked a sprayer up to. It’s a bit time intensive and messy, but it’s great for my purposes. I’m starting about half of my plants here. As you can imagine, I fear my next electricity bill.
I have 2 bales of a special organic soil mix, a stack of flats, and some popsicle sticks for planting, which I’ve been doing at a small workstation I have immediately next to my washing machine. I think it’s supposed to be a table for folding clothes, but it’s probably too dirty from planting to do anything but plant at it now. As an upshot, it’s nice to have dedicated work areas separate from home life.
The veggies will eventually make their way out to a third of an acre of land out at Steckle Homestead. Here’s a picture I took of my plot when the snow thawed:
Really though, it’s probably the sandiest soil I’ve encountered. Soil in the surrounding area seems to range from marshland to sand, but I would guess that the nearly 200 years of farming on the land has taken a toll. I’ve also heard rumours that it’s a crowded home for the dreaded twitch grass, and plenty of lamb’s quarters. I can’t wait to do battle with them. Here’s my actual plot:
I plan to refurbish the land as best I can on a tight budget. This will include pushing an agenda of reduced tillage, basic weed-and-drop and in-field food processing practices to keep biomatter in the field, brewing up compost tea as a fertilizer, introducing a cover cropping regime, and tending to a mountain of manure that the farm animals have graciously and voluminously volunteered in hopes of composting it before season’s end. With a bit of time and dedication, I feel like I’ll be able to do this land some good, which is important to me not only ethically, but also for keeping my end of the deal in a mutually beneficial partnership with the land. The classic farming adage “You reap what you sow” is a very simple but practical guide for keeping me motivated.
This is the land that I’ve been trusted with. You better believe I’m going to do my best to treat it well.
1. This is way harder than it sounds. I actually had to shovel through a foot of snow around my field until I found what I thought to be soil in order to get its dimensions. This, plus info on plant and row spacing, bed creation, aisle planning, weeding considerations, succession planting, seeding rates, and projected sales, really makes the question “How many seeds?” seem like an understatement. It amounted to “A lot of seeds.” BACK TO POST
2. Kijiji is really a magical place, where hopes and dreams are born and die. All for a fraction of the price of having hopes and dreams birthed and killed in big box stores. BACK TO POST
3. Other, less helpful farm-themed adages such as “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch”, “Hold your horses”, and the colourful “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” also peck at my mind. But I gather that it’s generally best to make hay while the sun shines. BACK TO POST